Australia flooding racks up a hefty bill
Economists have estimated the bill from the prolonged floods – the worst to hit Queensland for half a century – at $5.94 billion. But they say the real cost will be known only when the waters recede.
More Queensland towns – including popular seaside resorts on the state's Gold Coast – faced flooding Monday, threatening Australia's tourism industry and dealing a fresh blow to the Australian economy.Skip to next paragraph
Economists have estimated the bill from the prolonged floods – the worst to hit Queensland for half a century – at $5.94 billion. But they say the real cost will be known only when the waters recede and the full extent of the damage to roads, railway lines, bridges, and homes. [Editors note: the original version of this article misstated the estimated cost of flooding.]
As well as destroying infrastructure and drenching more than 40 towns, the floods have paralyzed Australia’s biggest coal-mining region, which produces more than one-third of its coal exports. Vast quantities of crops have also been wiped out, to the frustration of farmers hoping for a bumper harvest after years of drought.
Now Queensland’s tourism industry – already under pressure because a strong Australian dollar has made the country more expensive – is at risk too. After 13 inches of rain fell in 24 hours on parts of the state, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warned Monday that the Gold Coast – a magnet for international visitors – was in danger of receiving similarly torrential downpours.
Toowoomba, west of the state capital Brisbane, was the latest city to be hit, as flash floods raced through, killing at least seven people and sweeping cars off the roads. The city of Gympie, just inland from the Sunshine Coast, was also inundated, after the Mary River burst its banks.
The floods – which began before Christmas and have affected about 200,000 people across an area equivalent to half of Texas – have claimed a total of 17 lives. Nearly 4,000 residents have been evacuated, with many still living with relatives or in emergency centers. The federal government has spent almost $7 million so far on disaster relief payments to families.
Political recriminations and 'dam phobia'
As Queenslanders prayed for the rain to stop, the political recriminations began. Accusing Julia Gillard’s Labor government of “dam phobia,” the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, called for more dams to be built to minimize the effects of flooding. But his proposal was challenged by water management experts, who claim dams are not a solution and also harm the environment.